Darren Clarke's search for his first win since the KLM Open in August 2008 received a boost as he carded an opening 65 at the Iberdrola Open.
It left the Northern Ireland man just two behind leader Gregory Bourdy.
Bourdy hit nine birdies in his seven-under round 63 which put him one ahead of England's Danny Willett.
After attending the funeral of Seve Ballesteros on Wednesday, Jose-Maria Olazabal shot a 71 with Colin Montgomerie firing a 77.
Both players missed practice rounds in advance of the tournament although Olazabal is familiar with the course as he is course designer.
Montgomerie dropped five shots in his last three holes which did nothing for his chances of achieving his first top-10 finish in three years on the European Tour.
Bourdy's round was a course record on the venue where he achieved his first European Tour title in 2007.
"I feel very good and I like this course - I won three years ago so everything is great here," said Bourdy, who has three European Tour titles to his name.
"It's always great to hold a course record. It's very nice on Tour to get a score like this."
Clarke was pleased with his form after spending his last three weeks on holiday in the Bahamas.
"My distance control and wedges were very good today and I putted nicely," said Clarke
Four birdies in his final nine holes put 12-times Tour winner Clarke on five under par.
Welshman Rhys Davies is one further back at four under, hoping to add a second Tour title to his victory at the Trophee Hassan II in Morocco last year.
Scotland's Scott Jamieson was in a tie for sixth alongside Chris Wood of England, South African Jaco Van Zyl and Argentina's Cesar Monasterio.